McCann's best offerings are from behind the dish
NEW YORK -- While almost everyone was worried about Brian McCann's lack of offense in his first regular-season weeks with the Yankees, his value is clearly what he offers behind the plate.
This is why catchers make such good managers: They have a wide scope of both offense and defense, and they must take command as the uncontested leader of a pitching staff.
"I think what's going on with our pitchers is a testimony to the work [McCann] put in; he put a lot of work in," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a catcher by trade who knows all too well what a good one can mean to the success of a ballclub. "As soon as he signed, he asked for video. Then he went to work on the relationship part of it; he went to work on the kind of stuff that they have."
Not that anyone can diminish offensive contribution, either. McCann broke out of an 0-for-14 slump with an RBI single during the fourth inning, knocking in the first run of what would turn out to be a big 4-1 Yankees victory over the defending World Series champion Red Sox at Yankee Stadium on Thursday night.
It was only McCann's third RBI in pinstripes, and it felt almost as good as his weighty contribution to the performance by starting pitcher Michael Pineda and the closing job accomplished by the heretofore shaky David Phelps.
"It felt great," McCann said about the big hit despite still hitting just .167. "I've been feeling good at the plate, but I just haven't had the results that I'm looking for. I'm just keeping the same approach, and I know they'll start falling in."
Equally important, though Yanks pitchers haven't been clicking on all cylinders yet, a look beneath the numbers says their starters are coming along, as a 12-to-62 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 10 games can attest.
The bullpen in the post-Mariano Rivera era has been erratic at best, and with the injury absence of David Robertson (strained left groin), the back end has been a closer du jour, with Phelps the latest to pick up the slack.
Listen to what the two main pitching contributors to Thursday night's victory said about working with McCann.
"He helped me really good, because he always makes a plan for making a good pitch," Pineda said. "He knows the hitters more than me. I worked a lot with McCann this Spring Training. He spent a lot of time with me building a relationship. We work good together."
Added Phelps: "He's awesome when he's behind the plate, but one of the things I really love about him is that when we finish the game, he comes and talks to me about why he called [a] pitch -- 'This is what we're trying to do.' That's so big for a young guy like myself. He's caught so many good pitchers that have such good stuff, he knows what to do and he knows what we need to be doing. It just makes it easy for me to go out there and follow him and have faith in him."
All this, of course, is why the Yankees went out and signed the former Braves catcher to a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract this past offseason.
With all due respect to Russell Martin, Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and Francisco Cervelli, the Yanks haven't had a catcher of McCann's stature since Jorge Posada.
The Yankees are the franchise of Bill Dickey, Yogi Berra, Elston Howard, Thurman Munson, Girardi and Posada, having won 27 World Series titles with the likes of those guys behind the plate.
McCann, the heir apparent, has just turned 30 and has a seemingly long shelf life in the Bronx. He is no novice, having come to New York after nine seasons in Atlanta, where he built an impressive resume: seven selections to the National League All-Star team -- including the MVP hardware for the 2010 game at Angel Stadium -- and five Silver Sluggers.
McCann is a .277 hitter, he has a .991 fielding percentage and he has thrown out 24 percent of would-be basestealers. With the Braves, he worked with some great pitchers, and from afar has watched as former teammate Tim Hudson opened with two stellar winning performances for the Giants over the D-backs.
"He's the best pickup of the offseason," McCann said of Hudson, whom San Francisco signed as a free agent even though he was coming off a severely broken ankle. "I just talked to Huddy the other day. He's doing great."
It should come as no surprise then, that McCann spends a lot of time building relationships with his current pitchers if he's keeping up with a batterymate of the not-too-distant past.
It should also come as no surprise that McCann is not taking credit for any of the modest success Yankees hurlers have had under his tutelage.
"To be honest with you, I mean, these are great pitchers," he said. "I'm glad they say those nice words, but at the same time, the pitcher gets the outs. These guys have good stuff. Phelps came into the game tonight throwing everything he had. Pineda was awesome. I put my time in to learn these guys. We're building each day. Every day is better."
Which is all anyone can ask.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.